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Navigating the EEO process: How to file a congressional complaint of discrimination

The EEO process for congressional staffers and other federal legislative branch employees is unique from the process for other government employees. Here’s what you need to know about how to file a congressional complaint of discrimination under the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA):

Where to file a congressional complaint of discrimination

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) (formerly the Office of Compliance) processes EEO complaints for most legislative employees, including those who work for:

  • U.S. House of Representatives
  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. Capitol Police
  • Congressional Budget Office
  • Office of the Architect of the Capitol
  • Office of the Attending Physician
  • Office of Compliance
  • Office of Congressional Accessibility Services. [1]

How to file a congressional complaint

Asserting your rights under the CAA is a multi-step process:

1. Filing a claim

You must file a claim within 180 days of the discrimination, retaliation, or other violation. Complete the OCWR claim form, and submit it in one of the following ways:

  • Electronically
  • Email to
  • Fax to (202) 426-1913
  • Hand-delivery to John Adams Building, 110 Second Street, SE, Room LA-200, Washington, DC 20540-1999

Make sure to list all of your claims on the claim form. The OCWR can dismiss claims that are not filed on time. Your claim should describe what happened, and identify the person who discriminated, retaliated, or otherwise violated the law.

2. Preliminary Hearing Officer Review

After you file your claim, a Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO) will review it to determine if the OCWR can process your claim. The PHO will review your claim to determine if:

  • You are a covered employee under the CAA.
  • Your claim identifies your employer.
  • You filed your claim within 180 days of the violation.
  • Your claim describes what happened to you and how your employer violated your rights.
  • You identified the relief you are seeking.
  • It is possible to settle the claim without a formal hearing.

Within 30 days of the date you filed your claim, the PHO will issue a preliminary review report. The report will determine one of the following:

  • You stated a claim under the CAA: You may either request an administrative hearing or file a lawsuit in federal district court
  • You did not state a claim under the CAA: You may not request an administrative hearing through the OCWR process. Your only option is to file a lawsuit in federal district court.

3. Voluntary Mediation

The OCWR offers mediation, which is a meeting where you and your employer will try to resolve your complaint through settlement, instead of through a hearing or a lawsuit. Mediation is voluntary; this means it will only occur if all parties agree. After you file your claim, the OCWR will advise you about the mediation process. Either party may request mediation at any time before the Merit Hearing Officer (MHO) issues a final written decision or you file a lawsuit in federal court. If the parties agree to mediate, the mediation period lasts for 30 days. The mediation period may be extended by an additional 30 days.

If the parties agree to mediation, a mediator will be assigned to the case. The mediator is a neutral party; he or she is not on your side and not on the employer’s side. The mediator’s job is to help you and your employer communicate and resolve the dispute. The OCWR will schedule a meeting for the mediator, you, and your employing office to try to settle the case.

4. Administrative hearing or lawsuit

If the parties do not participate in mediation or the case doesn’t settle, the next step is to either request an administrative hearing or file a lawsuit in federal district court. The approach that is best for you may depend on many factors, including the strengths and weaknesses of your case and how quickly you want to resolve the dispute.

Administrative Hearing

You may also request an administrative hearing if the PHO determines that you have stated a claim under the CAA. If you want a hearing, you must submit a hearing request within 10 days of receiving the PHO’s preliminary review report.

The OCWR’s Executive Director will appoint a Merit Hearing Officer (MHO) for your hearing. The hearing must begin within 90 days of the date you submit your request, unless the parties agree to a 30-day extension.


You can’t file a lawsuit until you file a claim with the OCWR. However, once you submit your claim, you may file a lawsuit in federal district court within 70 days, unless you already requested an administrative hearing.

If you think you want an administrative hearing, you may wait to file a lawsuit until the PHO issues the preliminary review report. If the report finds that you didn’t state a claim, you may file a lawsuit within 90 days of the date you received the PHO’s notice.

5. Appeal

If you requested an administrative hearing and you’re unhappy with the MHO’s decision, you may ask the OCWR Board of Directors to review the decision. You must file a petition for review within 30 days of the date of the MHO’s decision. If you disagree with the Board’s decision on your petition for review, you may file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

If you filed a lawsuit and you disagree with the federal district court’s decision in your lawsuit, you may file an appeal with the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals.

Do I need a lawyer to file a congressional complaint?

You aren’t required to have an attorney to file a complaint with OCWR. However, an experienced employment attorney can help you navigate the OCWR’s complicated process. A lawyer will ensure that you meet OCWR’s deadlines and a state a claim under the CAA. Your attorney can also advise you about participating in mediation, and whether you should ask for an administrative hearing or file a lawsuit.

If you are filing a congressional complaint with OCWR, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help. Our attorneys represent congressional staffers and other legislative branch employees at all steps of the OCWR process, including mediation, administrative hearings, and federal lawsuits.

[1] Library of Congress (LOC) employees follow a different process.

This post was originally published on July 6, 2017, and was updated on June 15, 2020.

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Discrimination Employee Rights Federal Employees FMLA Hostile Work Environment Law Retaliation Sexual Harassment Whistleblower Retaliation Wrongful Termination


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